Castle ofour Skins was honored to receive a Travel-to-the-Collections grant from the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) in Chicago. As a result, co-artistic directors Ashleigh Gordon and I (Anthony Green) spent a week immersing ourselves in the massive collection of scores, audio, magazines, books, newspaper clippings, primary and secondary sources, and other material related to composers, performers, musicologists, and other music lovers who identify as Black or work with artists who identify as Black. Over the course of the week, Ashe and I had an initial objective to collect repertoire to add to a database of possible chamber works that can be programmed during the upcoming COOS seasons. After day one, however, we knew that other objectives would be inevitably added to our research, and this week was simply not long enough to 100% achieve any of them. But we would give it the old college try!
While Ashe was busy looking up repertoire (and coming across some hits and misses), I organically gravitated towards focusing on Black female composers. This inclination was mainly because of books by Helen Walker-Hill, books of which I was not aware until this research period. This line of focus lead me to discover two things: 1) Helen Walker-Hill was affiliated with a school that I attended, and 2) that same school in its past had a celebration of Black (mostly classical) music in its history, but it does not anymore. This celebration happened in February, however, the institute referred to February as Black Awareness Month. One such celebration included a performance by the legendary Kathleen Battle. I was 11 years too late to witness this.
This line of research also lead me quickly to believe that I was grossly unware of about 90% of the Black women composers about whom I read. Consequently, I constructed a list of names in a word document, along with (very light) notes and birth/death dates. This list includes over 200 names. My favorite part of this list is that some of the names I added to it were names I came across before Ms. Walker-Hill had her chance. Ms. Walker-Hill left this earth suddenly on August 8, 2013. At this time, however, there was not any update to any of her books or research to include composers like Renee’ Baker, SerenaCreary, Pamela Z, and Nailah Nombeko, to name a few. It is good to know that her line of work will continue to have a need, and her legacy will continue as this scholarship develops.
(Stay tuned for part 2!, and We'd like to hear from YOU!)